Samson Kambalu’s Antelope was unveiled on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth last week. The sculpture – the 14th commission since the Fourth Plinth programme began – depicts the restaged of a photograph taken of Baptist preacher and educator John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley which was taken in 1914 in Nyasayland (now Malawi) at the opening of Chilembwe’s new Baptist church.
Chilembwe, who is shown wearing a hat in defiance of rules forbidding Africans from wearing hats in front of white people and is depicted as almost twice the size of Chorley, led an uprising in 1915 against British colonial rule, triggered by the mistreatment of refugees from Mozambique and the conscription to fight German troops during World War I. He was killed and his church destroyed by the colonial police.
Though his rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, Malawi, which gained independence in 1964, celebrates John Chilembwe Day on January 15th and the uprising is viewed as the beginning of the Malawi independence struggle.
The artist Samson Kambalu was born in 1975 in Malawi, and is now associate professor of fine art and a lifelong fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford University.
“I am thrilled to have been invited to create a work for London’s most iconic public space, and to see John Chilembwe’s story elevated,” he said in a statement. “Antelope on the Fourth Plinth was ever going to be a litmus test for how much I belong to British society as an African and a cosmopolitan. Chilembwe selected himself for the Fourth Plinth, as though he waited for this moment. He died in an uprising but ends up victorious.”
The 13th sculpture to occupy Trafalgar Square’s famous Fourth Plinth is a nine tonne, 9.4 metre high swirl of cream topped with a cherry. Unveiled in late July, THE END is the work of Heather Phillipson and also features a giant fly as well as a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square to a specially created website, www.theend.today. The sculpture, which plays on the idea of the square as a site of celebration and protest, replaced Michael Rakowitz’s The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist and both Phillipson and Rakowitz were selected by the Fourth Plinth Commission Group in 2017 following an exhibition at the National Gallery where 10,000 people voted for their favourite shortlisted artwork. PICTURE: astonishme (licensed under CC BY 2.0)
A life-sized copy of Lamassu, a winged deity that stood at Nineveh’s Nergal Gate from 700 BC until the so-called Islamic State destroyed it in 2015, Michael Rakowitz’s work The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is the 12th to adorn the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. The American artist’s work is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representative of a once-renowned industry which has been devastated by war in the Middle Eastern nation, while the use of recycled food packaging can be seen as a reference to the recycling of cannons once carried on the HMS Royal George to create the reliefs at the base of Nelson’s Column. Unveiled at the end of March by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the work will remain on the plinth until early 2020.
PICTURE: Loz Pycock/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)